Rare Collections of the Ming and Qing Dynasties
Source:China Culture Author:Liu Fang Date: 2011-02-22 Size:
This hexagonal brush holder, with its golden edges, is exquisitely painted with pomegranate, camellia and chrysanthemums on its three walls. Poems written on the other three walls are the handwriting of Emperor Qianlong, including the Ode to the Pomegranate in running script, Ode to the Camellia in official script, and the Ode to the Chrysanthemum in seal script

Gold Cicada on a Jade Leaf


Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Nanjing Museum

On a crystal-like jade leaf sits a vividly crafted, gold cicada. The object is exquisitely shaped and original in workmanship, and is a perfect example of gold-jade combination sculptures.

Among the 4.2 million pieces at the Nanjing Museum, the gold cicada on a jade leaf stands alone for its art and craftsmanship. A vivid cicada with a golden sheen sits on a glittering and translucent leaf. The wings of this cicada are 1.7cm long, about 0.8cm wide, and only 0.2mm thick - like two little pieces of gold organdie. The leaf is 5.2cm long, 3.2cm wide, and 0.2cm thick, and is made from a piece of first-class Hotan jade from Xinjiang.

The cicada is a very old symbol. It appeared as early as the old ritual texts as an animal symbolizing rebirth. Thus, in ancient times, it occurs as a small piece of sculpture, which is placed on the tongue of the dead, in the hope that the person will be reborn. Some scholars believe it may have had additional meanings, such as “harvest time,” “autumn” or “resurrection.”

The gold cicada on a jade leaf, however, has a special meaning. In 1954, this object was found near the head of a body in a tomb of the Ming Dynasty; together with it were two silver hairpins and four headdresses, showing that it is a kind of hairpin used by women to fasten their hair.

The gold cicada on a jade leaf is called “jin chan yu ye” in Chinese. “Chan” means cicada, and cicada is also called “zhiliao” in China, “zhi” as the abbreviation. So the object can also be called “jin zhi yu ye,” which is a homonym with a famous Chinese idiom, meaning “one of noble birth,” used to praise young ladies. For women and girls of ancient China, there was no praise higher than “jin zhi yu ye.”

This piece is a masterpiece of the 2nd half of the 15th century, and is also the only one of its kind excavated in China.

Cylindrical famille rose tube with lotus pattern


Reign of Emperor Qianlong, Qing Dynasty (1661-1722)
Height: 4.3-6 cm
Diameter: 1.3-1.8 cm
Nanjing Museum

This kind of cylindrical tube is an essential part of the official hat of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which was completely different from those of the previous dynasties. We can easily find this kind of special hat with peacock feathers in TV shows or movies about the Qing Dynasty. The cylindrical tube is for tying up feathers to the hat.

The cylindrical tube is hollow for inserting peacock feathers, and on the top there is a loop so that it can be fastened to the top of the conical hat. This series of cylindrical tubes is painted with lotus flowers, bats, Ruyi (a symbol of abundance and wealth) and the Chinese word “Shou” (longevity), against a background of white and blue famille rose enamel.

The official hat of the Qing Dynasty was topped with knobs of different materials, signifying the official’s rank. In addition, peacock feathers were also attached to the hats’ rear. There were single-eyed (“eye” referring to the round spot on the feather), double eyed and triple-eyed feathers. The greater the number of eyes, the higher the rank. Only noble men and those who had done “immortal” feats were entitled to wear feathers.

Gold celestial globe inlaid with pearls

 
Reign of Emperor Qianlong, Qing Dynasty (1661-1722)
Overall height: 82cm
Diameter of globe: 29.5cm
The Palace Museum

 This gold celestial globe inlaid with pearls was made by royal craftsmen during the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795).

It has a pedestal, a holder, a meridian circle, a horizontal circle, and a globe.

The pedestal is round in shape, and made of enamel-inlaid gold and patterned with seawater in relief. In the middle of the pedestal is a compass. Four Chinese dragons support the holder with their heads tilted downward, functioning as the legs of the pedestal. Nine coiling dragons, carved in the shape of a goblet, are erect on top of the pedestal, holding up the globe.

The globe is joined together by two hemispheres, with their seams as the equatorial circumference. Varying shapes and sizes of pearls are inlaid on the surface of the globe, serving as stars. The names of the stars are marked beside them, with shade lines interspersing among the stars, indicating constellations.

According to the Yi Xiang Kao Cheng, a star catalog compiled during the region of Emperor Qianlong, there are a total of 3,242 pearls in total, making up 300 constellations. The globe seems to be a hollow ball, but actually there is a precise machine inside. After winding it up, the globe can revolve slowly, demonstrating the movement of the stars.

The celestial globe is not only an ancient instrument for detecting the motion of heavenly bodies, but also a beautiful decoration. It is made of precious materials, created with superb craftsmanship and a complex structure, from which we can see the new development of making celestial globe during the Reign of Emperor Qianlong.

Rose quartz dragon-headed censer


Reign of Emperor Qianlong, Qing Dynasty (1661-1722)
Overall height: 17cm
Diameter: 14.9cm
Nanjing Museum

The rose quartz dragon-headed censer is a direct copy of the gui in shape. It first appeared during the Shang Dynasty (About 1600-1100 BC). The gui was a serving vessel similar to a large bowl and commonly made of pottery, bronze or porcelain, and was often used as a burial object.

This censer is made of rose quartz or furong stone, which is one type of Shoushan Stone. The texture is fine and moist. Although there are plenty of jade censers from the Qing Dynasty, few are made of rose quartz because the making of a censer requires a relatively large-sized block of material, and large pieces of rose quartz are rare because of its fragility.

The censer has a wide opening, large body, two handles and a foot ring. The four sides of the cover and two handles are carved with a chi-dragon pattern. The chi is said to be “a hornless dragon” and is one of the nine sons of the dragon in Chinese mythology, which is a common motif in ancient Chinese art and architecture.

Famille rose brush holder with pomegranate, camellia and chrysanthemum designs


 Reign of Emperor Qianlong, Qing Dynasty (1661-1722)
Height: 15cm
Diameter of mouth: 19 cm
Diameter of foot: 18.7 cm
Nanjing Museum

This hexagonal brush holder, with its golden edges, is exquisitely painted with pomegranate, camellia and chrysanthemums on its three walls. Poems written on the other three walls are the handwriting of Emperor Qianlong, including the Ode to the Pomegranate in running script, Ode to the Camellia in official script, and the Ode to the Chrysanthemum in seal script.

The pomegranate, camellia and chrysanthemums all blossom or fructify in the season of autumn, so the painting of the three is also called “sanqiu,” which means “three symbols of autumn.”

[Editor] Lola Xu

    Artintern